What Are the Risk Factors for the Different Types of Leukemia?

Most types of leukemia (blood cancer) cannot be prevented. Researchers attribute some blood cancers to certain genetic and environmental factors that change the bone marrow cells, causing them to produce abnormal white blood cells that grow and divide very rapidly. The resulting unhealthy cells can crowd out healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Eventually, there won’t be enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body, enough platelets to properly clot the blood or enough healthy white blood cells to fight off infection.

If you’re concerned about your risk of developing leukemia, you may gain valuable peace of mind by learning about the risk factors and taking steps to protect yourself.

Which genetic and environmental factors can increase the risk of leukemia?

Some different types of leukemia – and some known risk factors for each – are:

  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) – Risk factors for AML include smoking, long-term exposure to high levels of benzene, prior exposure to high doses of radiation, certain blood disorders (polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia, idiopathic myelofibrosis and myelodysplastic syndrome) and certain genetic syndromes (Down syndrome, Fanconi anemia, Bloom syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia, Blackfan-Diamond anemia, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, neurofibromatosis and Kostmann syndrome).
  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) – Risk factors for ALL include long-term exposure to high levels of benzene, prior exposure to high doses of radiation, certain viral infections (HTLV-1 and Epstein-Barr) and certain genetic syndromes (Down syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, Fanconi anemia, Bloom syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia and neurofibromatosis).
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) – Risk factors for CLL include exposure to Agent Orange and a family history of CLL.
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) – There are currently no known risk factors for CML.

If you’d like to discuss your risk factors for the different types of leukemia with an oncologist in the Malignant Hematology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can request an appointment with or without a referral. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online.